Scientists at Stanford University in California have been working on a revolutionary new drug, which could help to identify cancerous cells in the human body.
The research will hopefully prevent the painful biopsies that currently have to be taken. These could then be replaced with blood tests.
The way the pill works is that it will prompt the cancerous cells to release certain proteins. These proteins can then be detected in a person’s blood. If the pill works, a person would only need a simple blood test in order to detect whether or not they have cancer.
It is hoped that the new drug will be extremely sensitive to these proteins, and therefore could help with earlier detection of cancer.
Lead researchers John Ronald and Sanjiv Gambhir have published their results today, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It was also presented to World Molecular Imaging Congress.
The scientists have previously published on the subject, and said at the time:
“We envision a powerful new cancer management paradigm that involves tumour detection via an initial blood-based assay, tumour localisation via molecular-genetic imaging and tumour treatment.”
Scientists have been aware of these proteins but earlier work has failed to detect them. This is because they have always been too minute and in small volumes to be detected accurately.
The team of researchers at Stanford University say that this new drug contains actual pieces of DNA, which then work to break into the tumours. The DNA is in a circular form, called minicircles, and once in the body, it prompts the cancerous cells to secrete a protein into the bloodstream. This can then be detected.
The drug will be used to target those who are specifically known to be at a greater risk of developing cancer.
In a previous paper, published in 2013, the team said: “We have developed tumour-specific mini-circles [of DNA] that drive the expression of secretable alkaline phosphatase or firefly luciferase [proteins], and validated them for detecting tumours.”
The scientists reiterate the purpose of these tests, which negate the use of biopsies:
“These can be assayed via serum and non-invasive imaging to differentially identify tumour-bearing from normal subjects. Importantly, they should have broad applicability in many patient populations … across many different tumour types.”
Google is also researching a pill that will identify cancers. In its studies, the pill will work by sending microscopic particles via the bloodstream to identify not only cancers, but other diseases, such as imminent heart attacks.
The project was revealed by Andrew Conrad, the head of life sciences at Google’s X research lab on Tuesday morning in California.
The project is known as ‘The Nanoparticle Platform’, and will use nanoparticles which combine a magnetic material alongside antibodies or proteins. These will then attach themselves to other molecules inside the body.
The way the pill works is that once a patient has swallowed the pill, these particles will enter the bloodstream and then identify molecules that would signal certain health problems. The patient will also wear a device that would then gather the magnetic cores back together and read the results.
Conrad said: “Because the core of these particles is magnetic, you can call them somewhere. These little particles go out and mingle with the people, we call them back to one place, and we ask them: ‘Hey, what did you see? Did you find cancer? Did you see something that looks like a fragile plaque for a heart attack? Did you see too much sodium?”